Longevity of UK Dog Breeds: Research

Our research to date on the longevity of UK dog breeds

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Project Lead: Dr Kirsten McMillan

Key People: Dr Jon Bielby (external collaborator), Ms Carys Williams, Dr Melissa Upjohn, Dr Rachel Casey & Dr Robert Christley.

Project background and summary:
It is widely accepted that companion dogs were domesticated from ancient wolves around 16,000 years ago. However, the incredible diversity we see between dog breeds today is believed to have originated much more recently – largely through intense artificial selection i.e., process in which humans consciously select for, or against, particular features in organisms. To maintain the diversity of purebred dogs, strict breeding practices have been put in place to prevent mixing of genes. These practices include using popular male dogs for breeding, focusing on specific physical or behavioral traits, and inbreeding. However, these practices can lead to a loss of genetic diversity and health issues.

The ethical and welfare issues associated with the breeding of dogs has become one of the most important issues within canine welfare. Breeding practices that prioritize physical appearance over health, functionality, and behavior can result in hereditary diseases, conformation disorders, and ultimately a shortened life expectancy. Despite this fact, little research has been conducted to assess the variation in life expectancy between different breeds/characteristics - or to explore the potential link between evolutionary history and lifespan.

The study

The study, conducted by Dogs Trust, has shed light on the effect that parental lineage (pure vs. crossbred dogs), breed, body size, face shape, sex, and evolution, has on the lifespan of companion dogs. Using data from 18 different charities and organisations, incorporating over half a million dogs in the UK - the results provide valuable insight for breeders, decision makers and dog owners.

Key findings:

  1. On average, companion dogs live for 12.5 years. Across all purebred dogs, median life expectancy was 12.7 years. This was slightly shorter for crossbred dogs at 12.0 years. However, ‘crossbred’ here includes designer breeds to loveable mutt – so, this requires further investigation!
     
  2. The study reports life expectancy for 155 breeds! Breeds such as the Caucasian Shepherd Dog (5.4 years), Presa Canario (7.7 years), Cane Corso (8.1 years) and French Bulldog (9.8 years) were found to have the shortest life expectancy. On the other hand, the Lancashire Heeler (15.4 years), Tibetan Spaniel (15.2 years), and Miniature Dachshund (14.0 years) were found to live the longest.
     
  3. Body size plays a role in longevity. Small and medium-sized breeds were found to live longer, with lifespans of 12.7 and 12.5 years, respectively. Large-sized breeds were found to have a 20% increased risk of shortened lifespan (in comparison to small-sized breeds) at 11.9 years. This was found in both males and females!
     
  4. The shape of a dog's face (i.e., ratio between the width and length of skull) also influenced lifespan. Brachycephalic dogs, those with flat-faces, like popular French Bulldogs (9.8 years) were found to have a 40% increased risk of living shorter lives than dogs with typical shaped faces e.g., Border Collie (13.1 years) or Golden Retriever (13.2 years). 
     
  5. Female dogs (12.7 years) were found to live longer than male dogs (12.4 years).
     
  6. Body size, face shape, and sex, were found to interact! For example, a medium sized, flat-face, male (e.g., English Bulldog) is nearly 3 times more likely to live a shorter life than a small sized, long-faced female (e.g., Miniature Dachshund or Italian Greyhound).
     
  7. Finally, the research mapped life expectancy across the dog tree of life, providing evidence that ancestral lineage is associated with breed lifespan. For example, clusters of related breeds with lower life expectancies included the Caucasian Shepherd Dog, Mastiffs, Bulldogs, Presa Canario, Neapolitan Mastiff, and Cane Corso.

This study fills a significant gap in research regarding canine life expectancy. The findings have important implications for the canine pedigree health debate and can help breeders, policymakers, funding bodies, and welfare organizations make informed decisions to improve the welfare of companion dogs. Additionally, the study provides valuable information for current and prospective dog owners, helping them understand the potential duration of their dog-owner relationship.

It is important to note that these results are specific to the UK canine population and may not be applicable to other regions or countries. Also, while the study cannot identify direct risk factors for early death, it highlights groupings and lineages that require further investigation.

The research team would like to express their gratitude to the organizations that contributed data to this project, including Battersea Dogs and Cats Home; Blue Cross; SSPCA; Raystede; Wood Green, The Animals Charity; Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home; PDSA; Mayhew; The Insurance Emporium (The Equine and Livestock Insurance Company Limited); NCI Insurance; Cardif Pinnacle; Agria Pet Insurance Ltd; Direct Line; Medivet; Vets4Pets; Savsnet (Small Animal Veterinary Surveillance Network, University of Liverpool); and The Kennel Club (UK).

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Full list of breed longevity table
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Longevity of dog breeds infographic

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